Latter-day Saint Orson Colby, 17, recently won the United States Youth A national championship in the luge at Lake Placid, New York. The Riverton, Utah, resident was introduced to the sport as an 11-year-old while working on a Scouting merit badge. (Photos courtesy of the Colby family)
Latter-day Saint teen/Olympics hopeful is a phenom on ice — and the U.S. luge youth national champ
Orson Colby begins each of his races with a silent prayer for his safety ‘and to have fun.’
By Jason Swensen
13 April 2023
When Orson Colby sat on a luge sled for the first time, the Latter-day Saint youth had zero Olympics ambitions. He harbored no dreams of ascending medal podiums, traveling the globe or racing down tracks at speeds best-suited for the expressway.
Orson was simply trying to earn a merit badge.
Then an 11-year-old Boy Scout, Orson saw an online advertisement from the local luge community inviting local kids to a “slider search” being hosted at the University of Utah.
As part of the event, boys and girls were given an opportunity to sit on a wheeled luge sled and receive basic steering instructions. Then participants such as Orson could take their first trial luge “run” down a small hill.
The “slider search” served a dual purpose: Would-be young lugers such as Orson could decide if they had an interested in pursuing the sport — and a team of coaches could make initial evaluations on whether a young man or young woman might possess the qualities needed in the highly-technical, physically demanding event.
“But for me at the time, it was really just an opportunity to check-off an activity required for the Personal Fitness merit badge,” Orson told Church Ball Magazine, laughing.
In the end, Orson earned his merit badge (he’s an Eagle Scout) — and also discovered he was a natural in the luge.
“I enjoyed it a lot. A short time later, the [evaluators] asked if I wanted to come back and try it on the ice at the track in Park City.”
Orson and his parents, Garry and Kelly Colby, had to play catch-up on what the sport of luge was even about. “The luge was completely foreign to me,” said Orson. “I knew nothing about it. I didn’t even know it existed.
Now fast forward — in luge-like fashion — six years. Orson not only knows much, much more about luging, he’s a national champion. Last month, he claimed the United States crown in the men’s “Youth A” division for athletes aged 15-17.
Orson won the national title at the two-day event (March 4-5) after notching the fastest combined times over a series of races at the historic luge track in Lake Placid, New York.
“This was my second time winning nationals, and it feels good,” said the affable 17-year-old. “I was able to win on a track that is not my home track… The different ice conditions in Lake Placid definitely change how I have to steer the sled going down the track.”
Latter-day Saint luger Orson Colby competes for Team USA during a recent international competition in South Korea. (Video courtesy of the Colby family)
Luge is an unforgiving sport. Even the slightest technical error or physical gaffe can cost an athlete precious time in top-end competitions where victories are often decided by milliseconds. Still, Orson was able to secure his recent national title by more than two seconds faster than his nearest competition.
While Orson was thrilled to add another important title to his growing highlight list, he humbly notes there remain areas in his performance that demand improvement.
“There were definitely things that I could have done better, but I was pretty happy about it,” he said of the recent national championship. “When I start a race, I always say a little prayer and just ask the Lord to help me do my best and to just have fun.”
Luge — A Colby family affair
Orson and his parents, Garry and Kelly, share a knowing laugh when asked how the luge has changed their lives over the past half-dozen years. The demanding sport is very much a Colby family affair.
Even as Orson works hard to optimize his physical fitness and master the subtle technical nuances of sledding, his parents remain his “pit crew” — supporting him financially while making countless drives from their Salt Lake Valley home for training runs in Park City. But Garry and Kelly are maximizing the luge experience with their son. They have even become officials at competitions.
Seventeen-year-old Orson Colby, a Latter-day Saint from Utah, has competed in the luge at elite competitions across the globe. He hopes to one day compete in the Olympic Winter Games for Team USA. (Photo courtesy of the Colby family)
An active, inquisitive kid growing up, Orson seems tailor-made for a high-speed winter sport that demands equal measures of athleticism, courage and discipline.
And what’s it like resting on a 50-pound luge sled, defying gravity and descending on a track of ice at over 80 miles-per-hour?
“I enjoyed it from the first time I went down the ice,” said Orson. “I knew this is what I wanted to do.”
Luging has also offered Orson a ticket to the world. Outside of the United States, the Riverton High School junior has competed on tracks in Latvia, Austria, South Korea and Canada. In the coming year, he expects to compete in Germany, Norway and, hopefully, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics.
“Being in Pyeongchang next year is my major goal,” he said.
Long-term, Orson hopes to represent Team USA in the Olympics Games. In a perfect world, he added, that would be 2030 in Park City if Utah is selected to once again host the Winter Games.
Gratitude for a global Latter-day Saint community
As a Latter-day Saint athlete, Orson knows he represents more than simply his home track or even his country. “I just try to set a good example, be a good person and look for ways to help others and be there for people,” said the young Aaronic Priesthood holder.
Orson’s parents are grateful for the Latter-day Saints in places such as Lake Placid that have welcomed their son into their congregations when he is away from home.
On one occasion, Orson suffered a concussion while training at Lake Placid’s Olympic Training Center. A short time later, the local branch president drove him to the Latter-day Saint meetinghouse where the full-time missionaries gave him a priesthood blessing.
“We were able to participate via Zoom,” said Garry Colby of the blessing. “The strength of the Church’s global membership is really important to him and to us.”
Kelly Colby added that as Orson’s athletic reputation has grown in the luge community, he has simultaneously earned the respect of his peers for his personal choices and values. “He is not asked to do questionable things,” she said.
The Colbys also appreciate Orson’s high school teachers and administrators for offering ongoing academic support, even when Orson is competing internationally and studying in off-hours.